Blog dedicated to reporting on Mexican drug cartels
on the border line between the US and Mexico

Monday, September 5, 2011

2 Mexicans deny terrorism, face 30 years for tweet

By Mark Stevenson
Associated Press

Think before you tweet.

A former teacher turned radio commentator and a math tutor who lives with his mother sit in a prison in southern Mexico, facing possible 30-year sentences for terrorism and sabotage in what may be the most serious charges ever brought against anyone using a Twitter social network account.

Prosecutors say the defendants helped cause a chaos of car crashes and panic as parents in the Gulf Coast city of Veracruz rushed to save their children because of false reports that gunmen were attacking schools.

Gerardo Buganza, interior secretary for Veracruz state, compared the panic to that caused by Orson Welles' 1938 radio broadcast of "The War of the Worlds." But he said the fear roused by that account of a Martian invasion of New Jersey "was small compared to what happened here."

"Here, there were 26 car accidents, or people left their cars in the middle of the streets to run and pick up their children, because they thought these things were occurring at their kids' schools," Buganza told local reporters.

The charges say the messages caused such panic that emergency numbers "totally collapsed because people were terrified," damaging service for real emergencies.

Veracruz, the state's largest city, and the neighboring suburb of Boca del Rio were already on edge after weeks of gunbattles involving drug traffickers. One attack occurred on a major boulevard. In another, gunmen tossed a grenade outside the city aquarium, killing an tourist and seriously wounding his wife and their two young children.

On Aug. 25, nerves were further frayed when residents saw armed convoys of marines circulating on the streets, making some think a confrontation with gangs was imminent.

That is when Gilberto Martinez Vera, who works as a low-paid tutor at several private schools, allegedly opened the floodgates of fear with repeated messages that gunmen were taking children from schools.
"My sister-in-law just called me all upset, they just kidnapped five children from the school," Martinez tweeted.

In fact, no such kidnappings occurred that day. Defense lawyer Claribel Guevara said the rumors already had started and that Martinez Vera was just relaying what others told him. She said he never claimed to have firsthand knowledge of the incident.

But in a subsequent tweet about the kidnap rumor, he said, "I don't know what time it happened, but it's true." He also tweeted that three days earlier, "they mowed down six kids between 13 and 15 in the Hidalgo neighborhood." While a similar attack occurred, it didn't involve children.

Prosecutors say the rumors were also sent by Maria de Jesus Bravo Pagola, who has worked as a teacher, a state arts official and a radio commentator. She says she was just relaying such messages to her own Twitter followers.

"How can they possibly do this to me, for re-tweeting a message? I mean, it's 140 characters. It's not logical,'" said Guevara, quoting her client.

Better known on the radio and social networks as "Maruchi," her Facebook site now features the Twitter logo, a little bluebird, blindfolded and standing in front of the scales of justice, with the slogan "I too am a TwitTerrorist."

Online petitions are circulating to demand her release, and the pair's cause has been taken up by human rights groups that call the charges exaggerated. Amnesty International says officials are violating freedom of expression and it blames the panic on the uncertainty many Mexicans feel amid a drug war in which more than 35,000 people have died over the past five years.

"The lack of safety creates an atmosphere of mistrust in which rumors that circulate on social networks are part of people's efforts to protect themselves, since there is very little trustworthy information," Amnesty wrote in a statement on the case.

In violence-wracked cities in the northern state of Tamaulipas, citizens and even authorities have used Twitter and Facebook to warn one another about shootouts.

Anita Vera, Martinez Vera's 71-year-old mother, said her 48-year-old son still lives at her house with his girlfriend. She said he told her that had posted his messages after the panic had already started.
"He told me "Mom, I didn't start any of this, I just transmitted what I was told,'" Vera Martellis said after visiting her son in prison.

"He used the computer, but I swear that my son never wanted to do anybody harm, or start a revolution, like they say he did," said Vera, who ekes out a living selling flowers.

Raul Trejo, an expert on media and violence at the National Autonomous University of Mexico, said the terrorism charge is unwarranted, but described the case as "a very incautious use of Twitter."

He noted that in Mexico, "Twitter has been used by drug traffickers to create panic with false warnings." In one case, a wave of messages about impending violence shut down schools, bars and restaurants in the central city of Cuernavaca last year.

Trejo said Twitter users must learn "not to believe everything, and simply take the Twitter messages as an indication that some (report) is making the rounds."

But the real problem appears to be that governments cannot prevent drug cartel violence or even accurately inform citizens about it. Local news media are often so battered by kidnappings and killings of reporters that, in many states, they are loath to report about it.

"These Twitter users had accounts with a few hundred followers," Trejo noted. "If these lies grew, it is not so much because they propagated them, but because in Veracruz as in most of the rest of the country, there is such a lack of public safety that the public is inclined to believe unconfirmed acts of violence ... The government doesn't make clear what is happening."

Defense attorneys also say their clients were held incommunicado for almost three days, unable to see a lawyer.

It appears one of the most serious sets of charges ever brought for sending or resending Twitter messages.
Tweeter Paul Chambers was fined 385 pounds and ordered to pay 2,000 pounds ($3,225) in prosecution costs last year for tweeting that if northern England's Robin Hood Airport didn't reopen in time for his flight, "I'm blowing the airport sky high!!"

Venezuelan authorities last year charged two people with spreading false information about the country's banking system using Twitter and urging people to pull money out of banks. They could serve nine to 11 years in prison if convicted.

In 2009, a Chinese woman was sentenced to a year in a labor camp for posting a satirical Twitter message about the Japan pavilion at the Shanghai Expo.


  1. Leave it to Mexico's corrupt government to prosecute a tweeter but drop charges against people Amado's Son and La Reina Beltran... This makes me sick. I am far away from a Right Winger, I lived in Mexico ten years and it hurts me reading articles like this.

  2. A perfect example of leveling long sentences to nonviolent offenders, but letting the real killers out soon after only to kill again.
    It's so obvious what's really going on in the justice system.

  3. @ 9:54, prosecutors and judges are scared of cartels and criminal organizations, every time they get someone that does not have a backing of any of these groups they throw everything at them.. Look at the Marisela Escobedo Case, the killer confessed but was acquitted by a panel of judges. Al perro mas fregado se le pagan mas las garrapatas..

  4. I do believe they have to be punish, but I don't think they have to be so extreme.
    I hate to see Mexico punish nonviolent people like this when killers go free. A lot of people don't know this but believe it or not, many presidents have tried to change the laws in Mexico but congress is the ones that don't allowed.

    You people should watch a movie or documentary call Presunto Culpable or Presumed Guilty (2009 film).

  5. Come to Mexico and leave your problems at home! (We have enough to keep you busy!)

    What are all of you worried about? Guns are illegal in Mexico, so you need not to worry! Whats the worse that could happen?!? You go to jail for using twitter?

  6. Tweeters and journalist.... all the same....just don't piss off the wrong people.

  7. They sentence these actuvist but they never sentence the Sicarios and Capos they capture?

  8. As always, got priorities straight in Mexico. If convicted for these tweets with typos, journalists will face more time than just about every other crime-even violent ones. What be wrong with this picture? Hmmmm? Maybe.....doesn't make any sense? Well, isn't that Mexico?

  9. @ September 5, 2011 5:24 PM What be wrong with this picture? Hmmmm? Maybe.....doesn't make any sense? Well, isn't that Mexico?

    What kind of bull is this Well, isn't that Mexico? Are you trying to say people don't get arrested for posting stupid shit on the Internet that may harm other people in other countries?

    Well here are some samples about peoples stupid jokes on the Internet.

    A 17-year-old girl was taken out of Del Norte High School and arrested Thursday after authorities said they traced a salacious Internet posting about two other students to her personal computer.
    She allegedly placed two high school students pictures and cell phone numbers in a Craigslist ad “soliciting graphically depicted sexual acts on a nationwide basis,” according to a press release from the Del Norte County District Attorneys Office issued Thursday after the arrest.

    Paul Chambers, who was arrested in UK after he tweeted a message about blowing up his local airport if it didn't reopen in time for the flight he had to take the following week. The message was clearly a joke. Now, as I mentioned at the time, I have no problem with the police doing a quick check to make sure it's really a joke, but that's as far as it should go. Instead, the police ended up arresting him under the Terrorist Act and eventually charged him with a crime

    American comic Joe Lipari. After having what can charitably be described as a "bad" Apple store experience, he went home and was watching the movie Fight Club -- and got "inspired" by a famous line from the movie, and paraphrased it into a Facebook status reading:
    Joe Lipari might walk into an Apple store on 5th Avenue, with an Armalite AR-10 gas-powered semi-automatic weapon and pump round after round into one of those smug, fruity little concierges. This may be someone you've known for years. Someone very, very close to you.
    It's a pretty direct paraphrase from the movie. Yet, it took all of about an hour for a bunch of NYC police at his door, carrying machine guns and wearing bullet proof vests.
    Just like the case of Chambers in the UK, rather than recognizing that this throwaway social media message, charges were filed against Lipari.

    Rachel Stieringer. She took a picture of her baby looking like it was smoking (an empty) bong. You know, as a joke. She posted it on Facebook, then was immediately arrested on drug charges and became the subject of a Department of Children and Families investigation, which could lead to her losing her child.

    On the Internet, where everything is exaggerated and everybody feels a little more free to talk shit, we're even more prone to this kind of meaningless murder talk. It's a form of stress relief. We've all wrapped up a bad day by getting home, sighing and logging on to the Web. By the time we run out of porn and stop crying, we're good and drunk and ready to vent some frustration over Facebook or Twitter or whatever tab we happen to have open.

    Then you have Walter Bagdasarian, who was participating in the most common pastime in Internet political discussion: talking shit about the president. Two weeks before Barack Obama got elected, Bagdasarian tied one on and logged into a Yahoo Finance board, unleashing a flurry of racial slurs and empty threats, including, "Fk the niggar, he will have a 50 cal in the head soon."

    Mexico is not the only one.

  10. a chingaa les van a dar mas anios que al ponchis

  11. Mexico is a joke, arrest the tweeter and let the evil ones go free.

  12. Ironically, at the time they tweeted that, somewhere in mexico a school child probably was shot!

  13. Correct again Texcoco.

    However, the important message is that you should be careful about what you post online for the world to see. Killing, terrorism, children smoking dope ARE NOT A JOKE. So don't come (not you Texcoco) with that shit about "it"s obviously a joke".

    The two in Veracruz caused a lot of pain and cost the authorities a lot of money because of their little joke. Not funny stupid people. Grow up.

  14. This is insanity. If you're a sicario in Veracruz, you've got a far lesser chance of being prosecuted than the average Jose tweeting about the firefight down the road from his house.

    The United States may be responsible for drug consumption, but we are not responsible for the corruption and ineptitude in the Mexican justice system, which is the real problem.

  15. @11:40 check out the story of Nestor Moreno ex head of the Federal Electricity Commission. The highest judges in Mexico pointed out, after one judge released him, that corruption is not a serious crime under Mexican law.

    The Americans that bribed him have already gone to prison. He kept his job for a year after the story came out in the US. The Mex prosecutors said they couldn't figure out who the US papers referred to since Moreno wasn't mentioned by name. Short answer - corruption and impunity are no big deal in Mexico including the Mexican Supreme Court judges.


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